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Volume 8 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 43

Opinions of Counsel index

Real property, definition of (station connections) (drop and block wires) - Real Property Tax Law, § 102(12)(d), (i); Laws of 1985, cc. 71, 72 and 463:

Drop and block wires are “station connections” for purposes of paragraphs (a) and (i) of section 102(12) of the Real Property Tax Law and, therefore, are no longer real property.

Pursuant to the Real Property Tax Law, section 102(12)(d) and (i), certain types of telephone and telecommunications equipment, including “station connections” are no longer real property (as amended by L.1985, cc. 71, 72, 463). It has been our opinion that the words “station connections” are a “term of art” as used in section 470 of the Real Property Tax Law, taken directly from the Uniform System of Accounts prescribed for telephone and telegraph companies by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) (5 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 10). Accordingly, we concluded that only those items of equipment listed in those accounts were entitled to the exemption provided by section 470.

Until 1983, Account 232, Station Connections, included drop and block wires which consist primarily of the cable and wire which connect the outside telephone network to the customer’s premises. However, both the FCC and PSC have now authorized the transfer of equipment from Account 232, to Accounts 242.1, Aerial Cable, and 272.3, Buried Cable, as appropriate. The FCC action was adopted on October 6, 1983 for interstate telephone companies under its jurisdiction (in this State, New York Telephone Company and Continental Telephone Company of New York) and became effective six months after publication in the Federal Register. At their discretion, these companies could have adopted the changes prior to that effective date but no earlier than January 1, 1984 (Amendment of Part 31, Uniform System of Accounts For Class A and Class B Telephone Companies, of the Commissioner’s Rules and Regulations, CC Dkt. No. 82-679, Report and Order, FCC 83-456 [released October 26, 1983], par. 44). The PSC similarly amended its Uniform System of Accounts on September 13, 1985, effective April 1, 1986; however, the intrastate telephone companies subject to PSC jurisdiction could have adopted the changes effective January 1, 1985.

Prior to 1985, paragraph (d) of subdivision 12 of section 102 of the Real Property Tax Law defined as real property “[t]elephone and telegraph lines, wires, poles and appurtenances . . .”, and the term “appurtenances” had been broadly construed to include “station connections” (Matter of New York Telephone Company [Canough], 264 App.Div. 415, 13 N.Y.S.2d 359 [4th Dept. 1939], aff’d 290 N.Y. 537, 49 N.E.2d 997 [1943]; see also, RPTL, § 470 prior to 1985 amendment). However, “station connections” are now expressly excluded from the definition of real property (see, RPTL, §102 [12] [d], [i]), as amended by L.1985, cc.71, 72, 463). Since this term has at various times both included and excluded drop and block wires, the question remains which definition of “station connections” is referred to in paragraphs (d) and (i) of section 102(12).

It is a fundamental principle of statutory construction that the interpreter “should attempt to effectuate the intent of the Legislature [citations omitted]” (Eaton v. New York City Conciliation and Appeals Board, 46 N.Y.2d 340, 345, 437 N.E.2d 115, 452 N.Y.S.2d 358, 360 (1982)). However, it is equally well-settled that where the words of a statute are free from ambiguity and plainly, clearly and unequivocally express the legislative intent no attempt at construction should or will be made (Mtr. of Empire Mutual Insurance Co., 85 A.D.2d 201, 447 N.Y.S.2d 712 (1st Dept. 1982) and cases cited therein). Rules of construction are to be used only where the statutory language leaves its purpose and intent uncertain (Sega v. State, 60 N.Y.2d 183, 456 N.E.2d 1174, 469 N.Y.S.2d 51 (1983); McKinney’s Statutes, §76).

Section 1 of chapter 71 of the Laws of 1985, entitled “Legislative intent”, provides as follows:

The only significant changes with respect to such property subject to taxation are the inclusion of telecommunications equipment used to provide transmission or switching of certain electromagnetic voice, video and data signals and central office equipment and the exclusion of station apparatus, station connections and private branch exchanges. It is intended that the terms “central office equipment”, “station apparatus”, “station connections”, and “private branch exchanges” encompass the same type of property which were subject to real property taxation prior to [the AT&T] divestiture in accordance with the public service commission’s system of accounts, regulations and rulings, and applicable judicial decisions.

In our opinion there is no question as to the meaning of the words referred to in this excerpt from section 1 of chapter 71. No resort is necessary to the rules of construction to discover the intent of this legislation. The Legislature has expressly stated its intention to exclude from the definition of real property “station connections” as that term was defined by the PSC in its Uniform System of Accounts prior to the AT&T divestiture.

The court-ordered breakup of the Bell System by Federal District Court Judge Harold H. Green (United States v. AT&T, 552 F.Supp. 131 [D.D.C. 1982], aff’d sub nom. Maryland v. United States, 460 U.S. 1001, 103 S.Ct. 1240, 75 L.Ed.2d 472 [1983]) took effect on January 1, 1984. As noted above, the earliest possible date as of which drop and block wires could be transferred from the Station Connections Account to either the Aerial Cable or Buried Cable Account was January 1, 1984 for companies subject to the jurisdiction of the FCC and January 1, 1985 for companies subject to the jurisdiction of the PSC. Therefore, prior to divestiture, that is prior to January 1, 1984, drop and block wires were “station connections” for purposes of real property taxation. Accordingly, it is our opinion that this equipment is no longer real property for purposes of the RPTL. {*}

We are mindful that paragraphs (d) and (i) of RPTL, section 102(12) as amended and added, respectively, by this legislation are silent as to the definition of the term “station connections”; they merely exclude this equipment from the definition of real property. However, a statute or legislative act must be “viewed as a whole. To this end, all parts thereof, if possible, are to be harmonized to achieve the legislative purpose [citations omitted]” (Saunders v. Winship, 57 N.Y.2d 391, 395-396, 442 N.E.2d 1231, 456 N.Y.S.2d 720, 723 [1982]). Furthermore, “’effect and meaning must, if possible, be given to the entire statute and every part and word thereof [citations omitted]” (id). Accordingly, section 1 of chapter 71 must be read together with paragraphs (d) and (i) of RPTL, section 102(12) so as to conclude that these paragraphs are modified by the express intent of the Legislature and that the station connections excluded from the definition of real property are those as they existed prior to divestiture.

October 4, 1985

{*}  Note that the provisions of chapters 71, 72 and 463 of the Laws of 1985 are due to expire on December 31, 1986 (L.1985, c.71, § 13; c.72, § 3; and c.463, § 9). In the absence of legislation extending or reenacting the exclusion of station connections from the definition of real property, this Opinion will be moot.